What’s in a number? In times of Corona we are smashed with numbers, some represent the active cases, others the dead ones. Behind every number goes a name, and a life. Moreover, these numbers are used to give meaning to the chaos, but what is the real meaning of these numbers?
In a time when numbers are put in the spotlight of every news flash, the real meaning of them does not always make it to the news.
As Romeo asked his prohibited love Julia ‘What’s in a name?’ I must ask us all ‘What’s in a number? Without the story behind a number, a number means nothing at all; and this does not only count in times of Corona, yet thanks to Corona this insight became visible and tangible.
The Face behind the Numbers
Some countries went into lockdown before the first case was even detected, while others waited until a tremendous high number of their population was infected to take bold measures. One might think based on numbers that the first type of countries is better off, yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Countries evaluated the potential of the health care capacity and based their measures on it. The more beds available, the higher the risk they could take, and the looser the initial measures. Some countries overplayed their cards, like the UK and the US, while others took proportionate measures not to have more cases than the health care capacity, such as Australia and Belgium; while others were taken by surprise and the health care system was blown out without a warning, such as Italy.
Yet, some countries knew their health care capacity is so underdeveloped; the economic power and health resilience of their inhabitants is so tremendous low, that they cannot bear a single case. Because once the fire of Covid-19 would spread, their countries would burn down immediately.
Enigmatic is the fact that some inhabitants of these countries choose to ignore lockdown measures and look for food, work, or shelter, despite anything else ‘because they feared starvation more than Covid-19’.
1,290 more deaths
The danger of statistics is that you can make any point with certain numbers, as long as you put them in a certain perspective; as long as you tell the story in a certain way. A 50-dollar dress is expensive if you know it is only worth a 5 dollar, but expensive if you were told it came down from 500 dollars. While the 50-dollar dress and its number stay the same, its meaning differs depending on the story you get told.
The same technique applies for Covid-19 numbers. They receive an entirely different meaning if you know the story behind it.
Let me give some examples.
At some point in the Covid-19 history the US and Italy counted around 1,000 deaths a day; yet, the US has 330 million inhabitants, while Italy only 60 million.
At a certain moment China had has many deaths as had Belgium: 3,000. Yet, China has a population of 1,393 million, and Belgium one of 10 million, alas, China and Belgium did had the same number of victims, but China counts over 100 times more inhabitants.
And what means 3,000 if you know that Wuhan added 1,290 more deaths on the 17thof April, days after the official statistics celebrated the flattening of the Chinese curve? A matter of correcting the statistics to China, but a world of difference to the world.
Official vs. Official
China is not alone in this kind of number magic. Some countries count only the cases that have solely Covid-19 (so, if you have a cold and Covid-19, you officially die because of the cold, not because of Covid-19). Other countries count only the cases that have died in hospital (so, if you did not make it to hospital due to practical, financial or health reasons or your hospital had no capacity and you were send home, you did officially not die of Covid-19). Other countries count only the official tested cases (so, if you showed all symptoms of Covid-19, but you were not officially tested because there were no tests available, you did not die officially because of Covid-19).
This shows us the biggest shortcoming in the numbers around Covid-19. Because eventually, what do official statistics matter when there are no official reporting methods, and not even the obligation to report? No two countries set the same standards, so why even bothering comparing numbers over the borders?
Flatten the Curve
All these numbers, tough, where given to make one point: we must flatten the curve. After it happened in China and in Italy, other countries in the world knew how fast Covid-19 would spread among its population; how fast the line would go up before it eventually would go down.
They knew they had to keep the line under the capacity of the health care system, to avoid all these active cases to turn into deaths. This is what happened initially in Italy because they were the first ones to deal with Covid-19, when China still hadn’t shared the crucial information with the other countries.
I wonder often, how many Italians could have been saved if only China would have spoken up immediately; and by a larger extend, how many people in total?
The Right Light
As you can see in times of Corona, and as it always goes when people are asked for numbers without the story, like a sales person making as much sales as possible, the numbers become manipulated to fit in the story they would like to tell. So, without putting numbers in perspective, they mean nothing at all.
Let’s not forget when we see the numbers in the news, and wider, every number that reaches our mind, to ask for the story behind it; and try to understand, to value and to act accordingly to the story, not to the number solely.
This lays in your power: question the numbers, ask for the story. While thinking of the numbers in your life and the relativity of their meaning if you know the full story behind them. Take a moment to jot down some numbers of your life and find the story behind it, you might find out that the same number can have a totally different meaning.
And let’s not forget when juggling with all these large numbers, that for every person who lost 1 beloved one, it is 1 too much.
This article is part of the series of Hope in Times of Corona. Read
- how this times of self-isolation should not mean loneliness,
- how you can contribute to this battle,
- how gratitude lights up the dark,
- how united we will stand strong
- on the most util strategy in awake of a crisis
- how I got blown of my feet as well, but caught by many caring hands,
- how being calm can get us through the storm.
- about Love in Times of Corona
- how to discover your own talents
- why we need stories to hold on to
- how you can be creative and innovative.
- how to spend your mot valuable assets in times of Corona.
- how to listen to the sound of silence.
- How breate taking Corona really is.
- discover the other freedoms Corona has shown us,
- about the new-born freedom Corona gave us.
- about another way to exceed your personal bubble.
- about the position of nature in this entire story
- about nature bouncing back
- about the crucial choice between resilience and resistance
- about the game to play
- about star gazing in dark times
- About looking for Meaning
- about what Easter and Corona have in Common
- About the Shark and the Turtle
- About the Irony of Distance
- Why to Hold on
- Fake News
- about The Big Unknown we live at
- about Feeling Alive
- about what the Birthday of my nephew learned me about life
- About where we should go from here?
- About the Great War and the Great Pandemic, and we should not forget
- about history’s most important message, echoed by corona
- How one country could rule them all
- About how to prevent the next Green Pandemic
- about how we are experiencing a new episode of our history books
Or wait until tomorrow, when I’ll shine another light on yet another positive corner of this dark times.